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Coming up: whale talk and beach cleanup

Two great events are coming up this week, so make sure to get them on your calendar.

On Thursday evening, the 27th, The Whale Trail is hosting a talk entitled “Biology and Evolution of Whales: The Historic Return of Mammals to the Sea”. Why do whales and dolphins have finger bones in their flippers? Did you know that today’s cetacean’s are descended from ancestors who once lived on shore and then returned to the sea? Jim Kenagy, the Burke Museum’s curator of mammals and professor emeritus of biology at University of Washington, will enlighten us all on this fascinating subject.

Thursday, March 27, 7 - 9pm
C&P Coffee Company, 5612 California Ave SW, Seattle (
map it)
$5 (kids for free)
Advance tickets:

The Whale Trail is also sponsoring a beach cleanup on Saturday, March 29, 10:30am - 2:30pm. You can sign up now at info@thewhaletrail.org or contact coordinator Judy Lane here. Volunteers will meet at the picnic table between Shelter 3 and 4 at Lincoln Park (map it).

Each year hundreds of thousands of seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles are injured or killed by marine debris and pollution. Fishing line, plastic bands and bags and other debris strangle, suffocate and mutilate marine life. Too many a one-legged seagull is seen along West Seattle’s shoreline - a victim of amputation by derelict fishing line. Plastics, such as the cup shown here at Lincoln Park, photodegrade into microscopic particles that never go away and act as magnets, attracting pollutants such as pcb’s and flame retardants. Consumed by marine life, these pollutants cause deformation and immune disorders. Read more on about marine debris and pollution on Seal Sitters’ website.

Please volunteer some time on Saturday and help protect our marine mammals by removing dangerous trash from the beach!

No "butts" about it - Alki Beach cleanup a success

Early this morning, 56 adults and children concerned about our marine environment (like 8 year old London from Nevada shown here with her grandmother Jimi), gathered near the Alki Bathhouse intent on cleaning up trash from Alki Beach. Seal Sitters’ Robin Lindsey spoke briefly about the two marine mammals serving as inspiration for the bi-annual event: seal pup Sandy and the Arroyos gray whale, both of whom suffered grave consequences from marine debris and trash. Kathryn Davis of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance talked about the importance of keeping the Sound free of trash and pollution - and the many ways we can make a positive impact.

Because yesterday was such a dreary, rainy day with not too many beach-goers, there was not the typical overflow of Friday night garbage strewn all over the sidewalks and beach. However, we assured everyone they would find lots of small, harmful trash - including many cigarette butts. In fact, well over an estimated thousand cigarette butts were picked up in a matter of hours along with plastics and paper.

Why are cigarette filters so harmful? First of all they contain plastic and are often mistaken for food by marine animals and birds. The part of the butt that looks like cotton is actually a cellulose acetate that biodegrades very slowly in the environment. Butts can take up to 5 years to break down in sea water. Since filters are designed to absorb tar and nicotine, they are laced with these toxins as well as lead and cadmium. Within an hour of coming into contact with water, the butts begin to release chemicals. Butts don’t have to be discarded at the beach to end up in our water. They wash down sidewalks and street gutters into storm drains that lead to the rivers, bays and Puget Sound. An estimated 4.5 TRILLION cigarette butts are discarded world-wide each year, leaching toxins into the soil and waterways.

The beach cleanup was a great success - all in all, over 100 hours of volunteer time were donated this morning (we’re still tallying the hours) to help keep all of us and the wildlife we love safe. We thank everyone for their hard work and passion! And a special thanks to SS hotline guru Larry Carpenter for puling everything together to make this happen.

"Sentinels of the Sound" beach cleanup in honor of seal pup Sandy

Make a difference and join us to remove litter from Alki Beach on Saturday, August 3rd. Seal Sitters' Year of the Seal: Sentinels of the Sound project is intended to raise awareness of the impact that humans have on our fragile marine ecosystem (to follow progress of our YOS project on blubberblog, click here).

Harbor seals (who do not migrate and are year-round residents) and orcas, both animals at the top of the food chain, are especially hard hit by pollutants from storm runoff and microplastics which are stored in their blubber. A 2005 study showed that harbor seals of South Puget Sound were 7 times more contaminated with PCBs than those of Canada's Georgia Strait. The orcas of Puget Sound are the most contaminated marine mammals in the world.

All marine life is endangered by marine debris and pollution. Many, many thousands of marine animals and sea birds die each year from derelict fishing gear, marine debris and pollution. They are entangled and drowned by nets and gear. Strangled and contaminated by plastics.

This year's beach cleanup events will once again be in honor of seal pup Sandy who was rescued from a West Seattle beach in August of 2011, rehabilitated at PAWS Wildlife Center, and then released back to the wild in January of 2012. Sandy was fitted with a satellite tag (glued to her fur which would be shed when she molted) to monitor her success in the wild and provide valuable data to biologists about foraging patterns of rehabbed seals. Sixty-six days later, Sandy was found dead, entangled in derlict fishing line off the Edmonds Pier. Read more about Sandy.

Sandy has truly put a face on pollution. Trash on the beach becomes treacherous in the water. You can make a difference! Help keep our beaches clean and our sea life safe.
Read more about marine pollution here.

We would also like to honor the memory of the Arroyos gray whale who stranded and died in 2010. The
necropsy revealed that there was no food in the thin juvenile male's stomach - only human trash.

Seal Sitters, along with co-sponsors Alki Community Council and Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, will hold a cleanup of West Seattle's Alki Beach on Saturday, August 3 from 9am-noon. We will assemble at Alki's Statue of Liberty plaza (61st Ave SW and Alki Ave SW). Please RSVP for this event so we have enough bags and equipment on hand.

Read about last year's event

WA House of Representatives bans flame retardants

Late Thursday night, the Washington House of Representatives passed a bill banning the use of flame retardants TCEP and TDCPP. These toxic flame retardants are commonly found in children’s clothing and furniture, but end up in our air and waterways - an ultimately, our bodies. The bill, Toxic Free Kids and Families Act HB1294, would go into effect on July 1, 2015, but still needs to pass the State Senate.

Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network and Sno-King Marine Mammal Response strongly support the work of Washington Toxics Coalition and this act. Toxic chemicals in our waterways affect all living things, most especially that of our marine life. A 2005 study showed the harbor seals of South Puget Sound were 7 times more contaminated than those living in Canada's Georgia Strait. Biologists use tissue samples from both live and dead seals to monitor the health of the Sound, measuring levels of PCBs, flame retardants, pesticides and other highly toxic chemicals.

While a ban of PCBs has reduced those toxins in recent years, the number of chemicals used in flame retardants (including those known as PBDEs) have greatly increased. Studies show that PBDE concentrations have been doubling every 3.5 years and have even been detected in the high Arctic. Contaminants are stored in the blubber of marine mammals at the top of the food chain, such as dolphins, seals and orcas. The Southern Resident orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. These toxins pass from generation to generation through the milk of mothers to their offspring. Humans, of course, are also at the top of the food chain - and those who consume fish from these toxic waters have high contaminant loads.

Harbor seal pups from our area, the Main Basin of Puget Sound, are more highly contaminated with PCBs and PBDEs than other areas of Puget Sound. Sadly, because seal pups are so contaminated, they are considered the ideal subject for these studies. Read the full study of contaminants in Puget Sound here.

Exposure to flame retardants causes physical abnormalities (including that of the brain, impairing the development of motor activities and cognition), behavioral changes, impairs reproduction and causes immune disorders.

The passage of the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act HB 1294 is a major step forward in reducing the devastating impact of flame retardants in our waters. Congratulations to Washington Toxics Coalition and their partners for this major achievement. Read more about their important work and environmental toxins here. The bill must now go before the State Senate. Please contact your senators here to let them know you support this act! Ensure that Washington State is the first in the nation to ban these flame retardants.

Read more about our polluted waters on Seal Sitters’ website. Seal Sitters’ Year of the Seal educational outreach project will focus on the health of our marine ecosystem and the harbor seal as the sentinel species representing the marine life of Puget Sound.

Lend a hand for beach cleanup and save marine life

Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network and the Alki Community Council (ACC) are teaming up to organize a beach cleanup on Monday, May16th from 9am-noon. Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA NW Stranding Expert, will speak briefly at 9 about the dangers that human trash and marine debris poses to all marine life, from the tiniest of invertebrates to the largest of whales. As many of you may remember, the necropsy of the gray whale that stranded and died on a West Seattle beach last April revealed a stomach void of food, but full of trash - plastic bags, funnel, golf ball, duct tape, sweat pants. For a complete list of items (courtesy of Cascadia Research who led the whale necropsy), click here. Trash that ends up on our beaches inevitably ends up in our marine waters - causing injuries and death to marine life, often by suffocation or strangulation. For more in-depth information on marine pollution, please visit the pollution page on Seal Sitters’ website, Toxic Seals - Our Polluted Waters.


NOAA has produced several children’s activity booklets about marine debris that are available here for download: Protect the Ocean and Understanding Marine Debris. Both contain puzzles and illustrations that help kids understand the importance of keeping the beaches and marine waters free of trash - so that sea life will be here for many generations to come!

Thanks to the Americorps (Washington Reading Corps of South King County) volunteers who will be participating in the beach cleanup as well as members of ACC and Seal Sitters. This event is open to the public and all those interested in making a difference for the environment. If you, your group, or class would like to lend a hand, meet us at the Statue of Liberty across from Starbucks (Alki Ave SW near 61st) at 9am. If you have questions, please contact Larry Carpenter @ 206-938-0887. Special thanks to Carol Baker and Colleen Hackett of Seattle Parks for providing cleanup tools. Tully’s, Starbucks and Pioneer Coffee are all generously donating coffee to keep our volunteers warm and energized throughout the morning. We hope to see you there!

Balloons are no party favor for marine mammals

During a scan of the beaches looking for seal pups early this morning, our volunteer instead found two balloons tied with long ribbons floating in the surf. This is a reminder to everyone of the dangers of trash in our waters. Balloons are especially harmful - marine mammals mistake them for jellyfish, ingest them and then die a slow and painful death. Please remember if you have a party near the beach, destroy any balloons and dispose of them properly. Never release helium balloons into the sky as they will inevitably end up in the Sound, putting our seals and other animals in grave danger.

Early morning wake-up call

On her 6am beach sweep this morning looking for seals, our photographer and first responder was shocked and angered to find Alki Beach by the bathhouse littered with trash. Four barrels were surrounded by garbage - paper plates smeared with ketchup and mustard, cups, plastic bags, plastic forks, plastic coke bottles. Seagulls were picking through the litter trying to find food. Small plastic ketchup packets were strewn over the sidewalk and beach. Our volunteer picked up all the trash that was scattered on the beach and along the water’s edge. The irony did not escape her when she picked up paper wrappers labeled “Spud’s Fish and Chips” on virtually the same spot of beach where our first seal pup, Spud (named for the restaurant), hauled out.

After the high profile and disturbing necropsy of the gray whale whose stomach was filled with human trash (ranging from sweat pants and plastic bags to a golf ball - photo at left), one would hope that it would have been a wake-up call to people of the dangers of polluting our waters - and the tragic impact it has on our marine mammals and other wildlife. Countless sea birds have died worldwide with stomachs full of plastic bottle caps. Litter that is on the sidewalk and beaches blows into Puget Sound and Elliott Bay, becoming marine debris that harms sea life. There is a swirling mass of plastic trash twice the size of Texas in the Pacific ocean, dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Please consider getting involved to help keep our West Seattle beaches and coves free of dangerous litter. Last spring, after reading on our website that seals and other marine mammals ingest plastic bags and suffer an agonizing death, second grader Etienne and her Bush Middle School class organized a beach cleanup field trip to Alki Beach.
Perhaps other local schools would like to follow suit. If you run or walk along Alki with friends, take a few minutes before or after your exercise and pick up some litter. Parks Dept. can only do so much and they don’t have staff on early weekend mornings or in the evenings. If you have a business on Alki (or are involved with a local school or civic group) and would like to work with Seal Sitters to organize “Adopt Alki Beach” for a day a week/month, please contact us. Something needs to be done now to protect our wildlife from pollution.

Gray whale necropsy reveals trash inside stomach

Yesterday the necropsy results were released for the gray whale that stranded in West Seattle. The Northwest Stranding Network team that performed the necropsy found an unusual amount of human trash in the stomach of the whale - plastic bags, surgical gloves, sweat pants, other plastic and fabric pieces, and a golf ball. As part of the Stranding Network, Seal Sitters’ first responder was invited to help document, however, could not publicly discuss the necropsy until the official results were released. Read Cascadia Research’s necropsy summary and findings here and a full list of items found in the whale’s stomach.

The public should give many thanks to the necropsy team for performing this incredibly important and physically strenuous work. Due to their dedication and efforts, we are now aware of the role that pollution may have played in the death of this whale - as it indeed impacts all our marine life. Plastics that end up in our waters never go away - they eventually end up as micro particles which absorb contaminants and enter the marine food chain, causing deformities and disease. It is well known that our local seals and orcas are laced with pcbs and other toxic chemicals. Depletion of food sources caused by commercial overfishing and pollution can be reversed by getting involved. You CAN make a difference - pick up trash on the beach, don’t purchase seafood on the seafood watch list and ask your grocer not to sell it, help clean up the Sound.

As an observer, our volunteer was stunned at the amount of trash that was removed from the whale - and overwhelmed with sadness that human impact had, in any way, contributed to this whale’s demise. Please learn more about our polluted waters and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an oceanic swirling mass of plastic twice the size of Texas, on Seal Sitters’ website. Educate people about the dangers of pollution and its tragic impact on our wildlife now and for generations to come. Make a commitment that this magnificent whale’s life was not given in vain.

See news video here.
Read Lynda Mape’s excellent article in the Seattle Times.
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